Defining international terrorism continues to be a problem fraught with difficulties. Though, several attempts have been made and continue to be made by various scholars, governments and international organizations such as the United Nations, a universally accepted definition is still a long way off, if ever it can be achieved.
Such an impasse is due to various reasons. First, vested interests exist of nations using international terrorism as an extension of state policy but covertly. Second, terrorism is the best alternative to an openly declared war as it costs less both in terms of money and lives. Third, the distinction between a freedom struggle and terrorism is hard to make. Fourth, terrorist organizations and their well knitted network spread over the world, often act as a counter to the will of national governments and may even influence government policies in many countries. Last but not least, the changing trends of international terrorism – from being a part of superpower rivalry during the Cold War to the religious terrorism of the present day.
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The whole world faces the menace of international terrorism today. No single country can boast of being immune from international terrorism. Even a country like Japan, where the crime rate is very low cannot claim itself free from the threat of terrorism. With the advancement of the technology and science, life has become very easy, comfortable and luxurious. It has been so also for terrorists who have more sophisticated technology at their hands to spread destruction and fear. Yet their basic method remains much the same. By killing innocents, and striking at public places – soft targets – terrorists try to convey their message whether ideological or not.
As we have seen in the previous chapters, terrorists are different from the regular soldiers of a particular nation and this has been further clarified by the Geneva Convention of 1949 and protocols added later on in 1977. The United Nations’ help was also sought to distinguish a freedom struggle or right to self-determination from act of terrorism.
The similar warfare tactics or guerrilla style of attacks used by the revolutionaries, freedom fighters and terrorists make the task of distinguishing between them both more difficult. But, terrorist organizations have more than one ambition. They want to meet not just political ends but also financial and other such gains. Terrorists often are paid mercenaries compelled by socioeconomic circumstances to join terrorist groups. In order to make them determined to accomplish the dreaded plans of violence masterminded and backed by self-proclaimed leaders like Osama Bin Laden, religious fanaticism is added to their mental makeups.
The Leftist-Marxist-Leninist ideology oriented terrorist groups have largely disappeared or are on the decline. With the disintegration of the USSR, a source of covert but effective support has also gone. The terrorist groups supported by the US during the Cold War are reverting to religious fanaticism, often in most cases Islamic extremism. The only difference has been a shift in patronage.
Several other terrorist groups other than those based on religion or ideology also exist. One thing these terrorist groups have in common is anti-Americanism. The reason being the stoppage of aid and patronage to such groups that they used to get once from America. As the Cold War ended and the major threats to the US disappeared, it also started disassociating itself from these groups that were left with no option but to look for other sources of income to support their organizations and carry out their activities.
In 1980s and 1990s religious terrorist groups emerged and multiplied to pose a serious threat not only to US but also to the world community as a whole. Though the number of terrorist attacks have decreased, their intensity has been quite high in the last decade. Terrorists now use the latest technology and weapons and are often funded by extensive drug trafficking, and smuggling of arms and other goods.
Some areas in Southeast Asia and Latin America are quite infamous for such activities. Laos, Myannmar and Cambodia are known as golden triangle for the above-mentioned activities. And in Latin America, the drug cartels of Colombia are among the most feared in the world. In the present era of globalization, even terrorist groups have gone global, with their widespread networks. Apart from using sophisticated means to carry out their activities communication channels, mass and electronic media are also used by these terrorist organizations to make their presence felt. The fact that the Al Jazeera channel of Qatar has had sole access to bin Laden’s interviews has been used to accuse it of being hand in glove with his organization.
Within Japan, terrorist organizations like the JRA and Aum Shinrikyo grew and spread their activities to other nations also. The former terrorist group reflects the Marxist- Leninist ideology while the latter reflects the characteristic religion/cult based terrorist group. The Japanese government responded successfully to both groups. The activities of both the groups are curtailed and whatever is left is insignificant.
However, situations like the seizure of the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Peru, in 1996 motivated Japan to strengthen its information gathering and cooperation building activities to tackle international terrorism. The September 11 attacks on Pentagon and WTC had a more symbolic significance than a physical one. US hegemony was directly challenged and Japan as an ally of the US could not stand by indifferently.
While the whole world sympathized with US and criticized the attacks, the Japanese in addition also responded differently from previous times of a similar nature. Speculation went around, that Japan was ready to go once again on military lines. For the first time a Japanese Prime Minister reacted so fast and pledged to do everything that was required to support US actions which at that time were unclear and only lay in the future.
Japan’s gradual remilitarization process took a long jump forward when the Japanese Diet passed the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law, providing the SDF with extra powers to actually use weapons. Though, this was allowed only in self-defense it was nevertheless of great significance. Before this the SDF could carry a weapon but its use was denied to them. For the first time Japanese SDF took part in providing assistance to fighting US armies during a war. Japan claimed it was logistical and humanitarian assistance, that it provided rear echelon support to US which included refueling of war ships. But it also meant that Japan had participated in a direct war, which its constitution had prohibited it from.
The fact of the matter was that the US and its allies wanted Japan to come out of the penumbra of Article 9 and to participate more actively and militarily in the war. Japan also seemed to have learned from its past experience of Gulf war when it failed to get its contribution worth $18 billion acknowledged. In leaving behind passivism, Japan had taken a new step towards a more active participation in international security affairs.
At the same time, after receiving appreciation from the world community, Japan did not amend Article 9 but remained stuck to it. Japanese policy makers were smart enough to satisfy the US and its allies, on the one hand and safeguard their economic interests, on the other. For them their economic interests came first. This time Japan’s contributions were acknowledged by the world community. Consequently, they kept their economic interests in the Middle East especially with Iran unharmed.
Japan used international platforms like ASEAN and G8 Summits to criticize world terrorism. It stressed on the need of taking measures to check the increasing threat of terrorism. It not only hosted a number of conferences on counter terrorism but also hosted and co-chaired the International Conference on Reconstruction of Afghanistan held in Tokyo in January 2002.
Japan’s contribution in the reconstruction of Afghanistan was not just in terms of financial support. The role played by its NGOs and the special envoy of the Japanese Prime Minister to Afghanistan Sadako Ogata also received praise. Around 20 per cent of the total contribution pledged by the international community for the reconstruction of Afghanistan was pledged by Japan alone.
The events of September 11 worsened the already very difficult global economic situation. The global economy including that of the US was suffering from a slowdown because of the bursting of information technology bubble. Japan was also responsible for this global slowdown because it had not carried out crucial structural reforms and could not take advantage of the ending of the long expansion in the United State. Just before the attacks, there appeared a reasonable likelihood of recovery in 2001, but prospects for global growth had since been set back significantly. The IMF reduced by one per cent, its forecast for world economic growth, to 2.4 per cent, the lowest since 1993.
Japan at that time was in its third and deepest recession in a decade. As the September 11 attacks reduced the chances of global recovery, so it did also to the growth prospects of Japan. Though economic measures taken by Japan after the attacks to support foreign exchange markets were worth appreciation, they were not very sound.
Household spending had decreased due to the severe state of the labour market and unemployment had reached an all time high. The GDP declined further. On top of all this, Japanese citizens were overburdened with more taxes. But this situation can be attributed not only due to September 11, but also due to Japan’s own fundamental structural weaknesses.
As often seen, Japan always followed the US lead, no matter what the situation but with certain limitations. Japanese leaders are neither hawks nor doves but pragmatic. Japanese role of a more proactive nature after September 11 was based on the general public’s increased support for Japan to be seen as doing something substantial. The long-standing demand of reviewing Article 9 by various individuals and agencies seemed to be fulfilled at one point of time. But, Japanese leaders as usual by passed Article 9 instead of getting it amended.
Opposition parties also endorsed the government’s move of taking various measures to counter international terrorism. A few scholars like Francis Fukuyama criticized Japanese actions but overall the Japanese government purposely, let the opportunity go, leaving speculation wide open on the possibility of participation in future conflicts.
The security umbrella of the US is the cornerstone of Japanese foreign policy. For the US, Japan is a strategic power in the East Asian region. Their economic interdependence can also not be ignored even though, Japan maintains amicable relations with nations like Iran which US sees as a potential threat. Though, Japan has certain compulsions to follow and endorses the US action in many matters it has always been careful to keep its own interests at the front.
By responding to the international crisis caused by terrorist attacks of September 11, Japan made its intentions conspicuous that it could resort to its traditional check book diplomacy, and follow America in what is often termed Karaoke diplomacy, but also respond in a more active manner if need be. The whole background for Japan to go on military lines once again is ready. If, at any point of time in the future it wishes to shed the restraints imposed by its pacific constitution, the Japanese response to the events of September 11, 2001 have provided a useful precedent. Already in possession of one of the most sophisticated defense forces, Japan can emerge as one of the greatest military powers in the world.
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